Why the Term “Marketing-Qualified Lead” Creates Serious Confusion – Part I

Posted on November 21st 2011

Why the Term “Marketing-Qualified Lead” Creates Serious Confusion – Part I

SiriusDecisions made a brilliant contribution to B2B marketingImage several years ago when they created their Demand Waterfall. That “waterfall” is a metaphor for key funnel stages. It seems like everyone I talk to who works in the technology industry, which is an early adopter of marketing innovations, uses the Demand Waterfall framework. The concept is useful for any B2B industry with complex sales.

Part of the beauty of the demand waterfall vernacular is that it added descriptive language to the word “lead.” All too often, sales and marketing have very different definitions of what a “lead” is. With its Demand Waterfall, SiriusDecisions created a common language between sales and marketing by labeling key funnel stages. By benchmarking industry funnel conversion rates, SiriusDecisions provided B2B marketers with a powerful framework for evaluating their own conversion rates from one funnel stage to the next, identifying funnel leakage and best practices, and forecasting results.

The problem with the SiriusDecisions model is one of language. 

 What Does “Marketing-Qualified Lead” Mean to You?

To apply benchmarks to funnel stages, you need an apples-to-apples comparison. The problem is that “marketing-qualified leads” has two distinct meanings. For some marketers, “marketing-qualified” includes telequalification. For others, it doesn’t. In fact, the same marketer might very well route some leads to a telequalification function and other smaller, transactional leads directly to sales. This problem is further compounded because, as revealed in the 2012 B2B Benchmark Report, sometimes sales owns the teleprospecting function and sometimes marketing does.

Obviously, filtering leads through a telequalification process greatly reduces the number of marketing-qualified leads and improves the downstream conversion rates. So what are you really benchmarking? 

That’s why I break “marketing-qualified leads” into two funnel stages: “phone-ready leads” and “sales-ready leads.” 

  • Phone-Ready Lead:  Marketing has done whatever it can to suppress duplicates and enhance, score and nurture the lead until the lead is ready for a phone call – that call may come from an inside sales rep or a telequalification professional. 
  • Sales-Ready Lead:  The lead has been qualified via a phone conversation. In such cases, the teleprospecting rep has typically confirmed that the person participates in the decision process, has a relevant pain, and wants to talk to a sales person.  In short, the lead is ready for sales engagement.

Lack of clarity around funnel stages will lead to misunderstanding, muddled benchmarks, funnel leakage, and the adoption of sub-optimal practices. Do you think the terms “phone-ready” and “sales-ready lead” are an improvement?  Do you have a suggestion for more precise language? I welcome your feedback and will share additional thoughts in future posts on a new funnel paradigm for the complex sale.



Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll, CEO of InTouch, Inc. part of the MECLABS Group that owns MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa and author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale (McGraw-Hill 2006) and the B2B Lead Generation Blog with expertise related to B2B marketing, lead generation and complex sales.

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